The Church in Galloway

The Bishopric of Galloway was re-founded by Fergus around 1128 at Whitherne, which itself is a very old place. Saint Nynia established his house here when he came to convert the southern picts around the end of the 4th century. Whitherne also existed as a bishopric under the Northumbrians. When the Northumbrians fell, however, so did the bishopric and control of the region became divided between the bishops of Glasgu and Iona. The re-establishment of the Bishopric of Galloway brought the region under the control of a single bishop again.

The current bishop is Christian and the bishopric is solidly loyal to the arch-diocese of York. Christian and Gille Brigte, however, do not see eye-to-eye and for this reason Christian spends most of his time away from his cathdral.

The Land of Galloway is divided into five historic deaneries: Rhinns in the west, Farines (or Fernis) in the south, Glen Ken in the centre, Desnes if the East, and Charraig in the north. At one time all of these were overseen by the Bishop of Glasgu or the Bishop of the Isles. However, with the creation of the See of Galloway around 1130, some of these deaneries were split off and put under the control of the Bishop of Galloway. One of these deaneries, Desnes, was split into two parts.
The deaneries that are in the See of Galloway are: Rhinns, Farines, Glen Ken, and Desnes Mor.
The deaneries that are part of the See of Glasgu are: Charraig and Desnes Ioan.
The see of Glasgu oversees many other deaneries, including those which surround Galloway, including Strathnidd, Kyle, and Cunningham (or Cunegan)

The names of these deaneries mean:
Rhinns: From old Brythonic ‘Rhyn’ or Gaelic ‘Rinn/Roinn’ meaning ‘Headland’
Farines: From either Norse ‘Far Ness’ meaning ‘headland of the ship’ (same origin as ‘Furness’ in Cumbria), or Gaelic ‘Faire Neas’ meaning ‘watch (or guard) headland’ .
Desnes Mor: From gaelic ‘Dee Neas’ meaning ‘headland of the river Dee’, or similarly ’Dee’s Ness’ with a similar meaning in Norse. The designation ‘Mor’ means ‘big’ or ‘great’, giving Great Dee’s Ness.
Desnes Ioan: Same derivations as above, but Ioan refer’s to John, who was the Bishop of Glasgu at the time of the partition. This gives ’Dee’s Ness of John’.
Charraig: From Gaelic for ‘Rocky’ (by some accounts) which itself may come from a Brythonic word meaning the same thing, or for ‘A fishing station’ according to others. The word lends itself to many places in Ireland, too, including Cork.
Glen Ken: Gaelic for the ‘valley of the river Ken’
Strathnidd: From Gaelic ‘valley of the river Nith’, although in this case the ‘nidd’ reflects a Brythonic origin, with the ‘dd’ being pronounced ‘th’.
Kyle: Supposedly derived from ‘Coel Hen’, the name of an old King of Strathclyde who is known to nursery rhyme aficionados as ‘Old King Cole’.
Cunningham: Originally ‘Cunegan’ with the -ham being added later by an Anglo-Norman scribe. The name Cunegan is of uncertain origin, but might relate or refer to the ancient rulers Cunedda or Cuneglas.


  • Dundrennan Abbey (Cistercian) 1142 by Fergus of Galloway, monks from Rievaulx. Abbot Sylvanus. This is easily the most impressive building in Galloway and built in the Romanesque style.
  • St. Mary’s Isle Priory (Augustinian) c.1142 by Fergus from Holyrood, Prior William.
  • Lencluden Nunnery (Benedictine) c.1164 by Uchtred. First nunnery within the Lordship. Mother Joan.
  • Viride Stagnum (Soulseat) Abbey (Premonstratensian), founded as Cistercian from Bangor, Ireland, but now Premonstratensian with mother house at Whitherne. c.1148. Abbot Michael.
  • Whitherne Priory and Cathedral (Minster Style) c.1128? By Fergus of Galloway. Prior William is the second highest ranking official in the See of Witherne after the Bishop.
    Bishop Christian of Witherne is the current Bishop and has been since 1154. He spends most of his time outside of Galloway, however (principally in Cumbria at Holm Cultram) because of his poor relationship with Gille Brigte.
    Whitherne is built in the Romanesque style and is a cruciform building with a three-aisled choir, a short aisle-less nave, and an eastern arm with a chapel to St. Ninian. The community around the church has a carving school and an ironworks (where brinze, gold, and silver are also occasionally worked).
  • Kirkcudbright, an old church near Castle Fergus, granted to Holyrood Abbey in 1161 by Fergus upon his admittance there, along with the lands of Dunrod and Galtweid to the south. The uncorrupt mortal remains of the Saint Columba were kept here for a number of years after their disinterment in Lindisfarne during the Danish invasions and before finally settling in Ripon, Yorkshire.

The saints listed below are in addition to the saints that are popular all over Scotland (listed elsewhere). Saints Columba, Cuthbert, Oswald, and Nynia, from that list, are particularly popular in Galloway. The majority of the saints listed below, however, will be unfamiliar to most readers. Some are local saints, others have a connection to Galloway, and some are merely popular by association.

  • St. Bruoc, one of the seven founder saints of Brittany.
  • St. Ciaran Og of Clonmacnoise, a fellow student of St. Columba.
  • St. Colman an Eala or St. Colman of Elo, nephew of St. Columba.
  • St. Colman of Lindisfarne, who was a bishop there after Aidan and Finan. He resigned after the Synod of Whitby.
  • St. Connell, of Ireland.
  • St. Cummin, second abbot of Iona, is known on the west coast.
  • St. Donan, missionary to the northwestern picts and patron saint of the isle of Eigg, where he died with 150 of his congregation at the hands of a Pictish Queen. His saint day is April 17 and he is thought to be buried at Kildonan on the isle of Arran.
    St. Eoghan of Galloway, an Irish saint who studied at Witherne and became bishop of Tyrone in Ireland.
  • St. Fillan of Munster, who came to Scotland and lived in Loch Duich, then Wexford, then retired a hermit in Fife. He is credited with being able to heal the sick and also possessed a luminous glow in his left arm which allowed him to read and write sacred scriptures in the dark. Hi relics include The Mayne (arm bone), The Quigrich (crosier, or saint’s staff), and the Bernane, a cast bronze bell, which could be placed over a sufferer’s head to cure migraines and such. It would come flying through the air when called by the saint. Legend has it there is a crack in the bell caused by someone who, unused to seeing flying bells, shot it with an arrow.
  • St. Finan of Lindisfarne, who was trained at Iona and became a bishop at Lindisfarne.
  • St. Guinneain (St. Finnian of Moville) who was a teacher of St. Columba.
  • St. Inan, a local saint of Irvine in Cunningham originally from Iona.
  • St. Kevoca, a 7th C. Hermitess and virgin. She is popular in Kyle, Cunningham, and as far south as Charraig.
  • St. Lasar, Irish virgin, niece of St. Forchera, also called Lassar or Lassera. She was a nun, given to the care of Sts. Finan and Kieran at Clonard, Ireland.
  • St. Laurence and St John are invoked in lands where the Knights Hospitaller and Knights Templar own lands.
  • St. Machutus (St. Maclou or St. Malo), another of the seven founder saints of Brittany and a travelling companion of St. Brendan.
  • St. Medran of Ireland, founder of the abbey of Muscraige.
  • St. Medan (St. Medana) is known only from a few place names located around Lus Bay in western Galloway, namely the two Kirkmaidens, one in Farines and one in Rhinns. Local legend has it that Medana was daughter of an Irish King who was being wooed by a young pagan noble. She, however, had taken to Christianity and had sworn herself to a vow of celibacy. To escape this ardent young man she fled Ireland with two of her handmaidens and landed at what is now called Kirkmedan of Rhinns. Here she lived the life of a hermit with her two companions. One day, however, she heard voices and was surprised to see the Irish prince who had wooed her. He ran up to her and embraced her, insisting she come back with him to Ireland. She wriggled away, however, and jumped onto a rock in the ocean. This rock then miraculously floated her and her companions across the bay to what is now Kirkmedan of Fernis. Here she lived in peace for a while before her lover found her once again. Upon his arrival this time, she climbed a tree and called down to him: “Why do you persecute me thus?” He replied plaintively, “Those eyes compel me!” at which she dug out her own eyes and threw them at his feet, crying “Take them, then!”. Repentant and broken-hearted, the young man left. Medana descended from her tree and asked her companions for water with which to wash her face. “There is none’, said one, but then a clear stream broke from the ground, and when she washed her eyes with it, her sight was restored.
  • St. Onchuo of Clonmore, the Poet, died c. 600. Saint Oncho was an Irish pilgrim, poet, guardian of the Celtic traditions, and a collector of holy relics. While pursuing his search for memorials of the Irish saints he died at Clonmore monastery, then governed by Saint Maidoc, and his body was enshrined there together with the relics he had gathered.
  • St. Patrick of Ireland
  • St. Theneu, who was the mother of St. Kentigern.


The Life of St Aelred of Rievaulx offers this anecdote from the period (Adapted from Transactions: Glasgow Historical Society):

“When St Aelred of Rievaux travelled into Galloway in the year 1164 he saw the turbulence of the scolocs (scholars, lowest member of a monastic community) and wrath of St Cuthbert. He happened to be at Cuthbictis Khirche or Kirkcudbright on the feast day of the Saint. A fierce bull bound with ropes was dragged from the pasture by strong men to the church to be offered as an alms and oblation to St Cuthbert. The clerks of the church who are called in the Gaelic tongue scollofthes (scolocs) wished to get some sport out of the bull and, very irreverently pro ludibrio scurrilitatis, proposed to bait it in the church yard. They hauled it away and hurried to loose the ropes. The older and wiser members remonstrated against the profanity and feared a speedy judgment. “There is no Cuthbert here,” says a scoffer in eos garriendo cachinnans, “nor is this a place to show his power for all his well built stone chapel”. So saying he unbound the bull and began to bait him with the rest. The bull shook himself loose with a roar rushed at the crowd jammed together and hurting no one made right at the aforesaid scholar and pinned him on his horn. Thus fell retribution on the scoloc who rashly broke the peace of St Cuthbert’s churchyard by a bull bait on St Cuthbert’s own feast day! The whole crowd who saw the power of the Saint broke forth into singing rendering due praise to the blessed Cuthbert!”

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